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Erased Super Bowl XII: Dallas Cowboys 27 Denver Broncos 10
Following the AFL/NFL merger, the NFL went through a period of great league disparity. From 1971-1980, nine of the ten AFC Championships were won by three teams: Pittsburgh, Miami, and Oakland. The one who bucked that trend was the Denver Broncos. In the early 70s, Denver was a mediocre team stuck in a division with the Oakland Raiders. Before 1977, Oakland had won the AFC West every year but one in the 1970s and had lost to the Broncos just twice in 14 contests. In 1976, the Raiders went 13-1 and won the Super Bowl. In January 1977, Denver hired Red Miller to be the new head coach. He provided the spark Denver needed to get over the AFC hump. “Broncomania” was born. These new Broncos were like nothing ever seen before in Denver. They got off to the best start in franchise history, reeling off six straight wins to start the regular season, including a 30-7 shellacking of the Raiders in Oakland. Denver would finish the season 12-2 with losses coming just to the Raiders in the rematch and the Cowboys in Dallas. Despite being the AFC’s number one seed and possessing the conference’s best scoring defense – nicknamed the Orange Crush, Denver would have to prove they could play with the battle-tested AFC powers in the playoffs. In the Divisional round, Denver would host the team of the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers. After an even three quarters, the Broncos pulled away to claim a 34-21 win, setting up another meeting with their hated rivals – Oakland. In the AFC Championship Game, “Broncomania” was in full effect at Mile High Stadium. The Broncos jumped out to an early lead and held off a 4th quarter Raiders comeback to win the AFC Title 20-17. They had broken through the AFC’s glass ceiling and ran right into the team that had held an iron grip on the NFC since the decade began: the Dallas Cowboys. 

The Dallas Cowboys qualified for the Super Bowl five times in the 1970s and were the only NFC team in the decade to win it. While possessing some of the best players and teams in NFL history over the decade, the 1977 team might have been their best. Their defense had been dubbed “Doomsday II”. The sequel to the legendary Doomsday Defense of the 1960s and early 70s might have been better than the original. It featured a cast of past and future Pro Bowlers and All-Pros like DE Harvey Martin, DE Ed “Too Tall” Jones, S Cliff Harris, and LB Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson. It was anchored by 24-year-old Phenom DT Randy “The Manster” White, who would go on to be a 7-time first-team All-Pro and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The offense continued to see elite play from legendary quarterback Roger Staubach and got a little bit of help in the 1977 Draft in the form of future Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett. This team was as stacked as they come. They had the league’s number one offense and defense. They cruised through the regular season at 12-2 and won their two playoff games by a combined 60-13. They headed to New Orleans to meet Denver in the NFL’s first indoor and prime-time Super Bowl game.

While the AFC was thought to be the superior conference, Dallas entered as 6 point favorites, due to their experience in the playoffs. That held true. Denver never got on track. Doomsday II completely dominated the Denver offensive line. They hassled the Denver quarterbacks constantly, holding them to 8 of 25 passing for just 61 yards and 4 interceptions. They forced a then-record eight turnovers. On offense, Dallas played an efficient game that saw them gain 325 yards on the Orange Crush defense and produce five scoring drives. Dallas won their second Super Bowl of the decade 27-10, Randy White and Harvey Martin became the only co-MVPs in Super Bowl history, and America wondered why this snoozer was moved from the afternoon just to waste their evening. 

The Switch: 1977 Oakland Raiders for 1977 Denver Broncos
There is little doubt that the Denver Broncos were the best AFC team of 1977. They had a good enough offense and the best defense in the conference. But it’s hard to watch what happened to them in the Super Bowl and not believe that the Raiders would have fared better. Oakland was the defending Super Bowl champions, had an 11-3 record, finished second to Denver in the AFC in scoring differential by 5 points, and most importantly, had the NFL’s highest-scoring offense. 1977 was perhaps the worst year for offensive football since the era of Single Wing offenses. Eight of the league’s 28 teams failed to score an average of more than 14 points a game. In this environment, the Raiders 25.1 points per game makes them a veritable Greatest Show on Baseball Dirt. Defensively, the Raiders were average, but like all Raider teams, they could take the ball away – ranking 3rd in the NFL in takeaways. If you want to go to intangibles, Oakland’s 14 playoff games from 1970-1977 were the most in the AFC. They would not be intimidated by the bright lights of the Super Bowl. Denver was better, but the Raiders would have played better in Super Bowl XII. 

The Raiders fell behind the Broncos early in the AFC Championship Game but closed to within 14-10 in the 4th quarter. However, Raiders QB Ken Stabler threw an interception deep in Raiders territory with 9:25 to go. This led to a Denver touchdown from QB Craig Morton to Haven Moses with 7:43 to play. Denver would miss the extra point to keep the Raiders within a touchdown and field goal at 20-10. Later in the 4th quarter, Stabler hit Hall of Fame TE Dave Casper for a touchdown pass with 3:16 remaining, pulling the Raiders to within three, 20-17. Had the Raiders been able to make a stop, their top-scoring offense would have had a chance to steal the game either in regulation or overtime. But Oakland’s suspect defense allowed Denver to gain two first downs, all on the ground, and the Broncos were headed to the Super Bowl.  The Raiders best chance to win would have come by not turning the ball over earlier in the quarter. Let’s assume Stabler doesn’t throw the interception. The Raiders get 10 more points and they advance to the Super Bowl with an opportunity to defend their title against the Cowboys.  

Improved Super Bowl XII: Cowboys vs. Raiders - Evaluating the Matchup
This would have been one of the most anticipated matchups in NFL history. For starters, this was a Super Bowl that almost happened many times. Dallas and Oakland reached their respective conference championship games in the same year five times in the first 15 Super Bowl seasons. But each time one of the two lost, so it never came to be. Also, interest would be added to this matchup by the fact that these two great franchises had met just once before in history – a 27-23 Raiders win back in 1974. These two teams had been the most consistent winners in their respective conferences for a decade and their second-ever meeting would be for all the marbles.

However, looking more closely at the two 1977 teams, it’s clear that Dallas was better. They were top ten in nearly every category. While the Raiders scored most often, Dallas was second in the NFL in scoring and their 8th ranked scoring defense greatly outperformed the Raiders 14th best unit. However, there is one part of the stat book that suggests the Raiders had a chance. Dallas’ defense thrived on rushing the quarterback. They were 2nd in the NFL with 53 sacks. The ability to terrorize the opposing team’s passer was on full display against the Broncos in the real Super Bowl XII. However, Denver’s quarterbacks were sacked 50 times in 1977. Oakland had allowed just half as many. While protecting Stabler, the Raiders had the 4th best net yards per pass attempt in the NFL. If they could protect Stabler against that great Dallas front, they might have a chance to hit some big plays to their All-Pro trio of pass-catchers – Fred Biletnikoff, Cliff Branch, and Dave Casper. This would open up their ground game with 1,200 yard back Mark van Eaghen. The Raiders had the weapons on offense to at least threaten the Cowboys. 

This game is ranked number 4 based mostly on its historical significance – not the expected quality of the game. This game would’ve matched up some of the best, most famous talents of the decade, but the 1977 editions of each team strongly suggest a Cowboys victory. Dallas outclassed the Raiders at every turn. The Raiders had playmakers in the passing game and strong rushing offense and defense, but unfortunately for them, the Cowboys were just as good in those areas. The poised Raiders would have stayed in it early and perhaps hit a few big plays, but the Cowboys would not have flinched. To date, they were the only team to have played more postseason games in the 70s than the Raiders. The Cowboys and their superior talent would have taken over in the second half and won somewhat comfortably. 

Besides giving football fans a rare matchup between two legendary teams, this would not have changed history much. Dallas still adds another title and Oakland is still a great team that doesn’t quite measure up to Pittsburgh come crunch time. Perhaps this loss takes some of the luster off of Raiders coach John Madden. In the early 90s, maybe EA Sports looks elsewhere for a popular, eccentric NFL commentator to be the face of their video game brand. In this universe, the Cowboys beat the Raiders and we’re all playing Dierdorf 16 on our gaming consoles. 

Dallas 31 Oakland 17
MVP: Randy White (Because he’s awesome)

Check back tomorrow for number 3, where we see the epic battle between two extreme opposites…

Eric Drews
Green and Gold Forever

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